The Pokemon of Russia? Inside 4Kids' Gogoriki

Let’s reflect on kids cartoons. Why, you say? Try that probably the best show for the K-8 bracket hails from St. Petersburg. No, not Florida, but Russia.

Gogoriki was created by a gentleman named Denis Chernov. He did it under mandate from the Russian government to develop a series that had no “negative” characters amongst the cast. Instead, plots would revolve around “not on the battle of opposing forces but on the unexpected situations which the animated characters stumble upon in their lives.” Launched in 2004, the series is now considered the “Spongebob” of the former USSR, and has also taken off in Germany.

In the U.S., when a studio is given this kind of mandate, you usually end up with such tasteless pablum it’s easy to understand why knee biters are turning to alternate forms of entertainment. Yes, there are exceptions, such as Wonder Pets, Dora The Explorer and Go Diego Go!. Still, the standard fair is such insipid gruel. Not so Gogoriki.

For further proof, you can see it in the US on your local CW4Kids block at 8:00 a.m. Eastern. It’s doing so well the network expanded it from 30 minutes to a full hour.

“I was introduced to the series by Roz Nowicki , the EVP of Marketing and Licensing,” says Norman Grossfeld, President of Production at 4Kids. “She was tracking the show’s tremendous success in Russia and we started pursuing the opportunity right away. The show as a great match for 4Kids because we were looking for comedy series that could appeal to boys and girls. We loved the animation style and the overall design of the series. You get a real sense that the animators know and love these characters very much by the attention to detail and the little nuances they add. It’s a real bonus that there are great pro-social messages interwoven into each funny story.”

“People have been describing it as the Pokémon of Russia . I’ve seen a list of the products available there and it certainly is ubiquitous. In Russia the show is called “Smeshariki,” which loosely translated means ‘funny little balls.’ So we changed the name for a variety of reasons..We liked the idea of the name of the show, and the character names themselves, playing off of their round ‘O’ shapes. Thus, Gogoriki.”

One quick glance at the show and you can see why the show has become internationally popular. Each character is basically a bulbous little critter with just enough features poking out of their peripheries to make them look like anything from a teddy bear to a penguin. They also come with distinctive and easily identifiable character traits.

“The characters share a basic circle shape, but there the outward similarities end,” says Grossfeld. “They each have the trait of a different animal-type. They are each a different color. They have different interests and temperaments. They are of different generations and come from different places. Despite all of their differences, the Gogoriki always come together to share whacky adventures and solve problems in ways which are creative, unexpected and fun.

“I like to describe the show as a situation comedy. I think our team has done a tremendous job on our adaptation of the series. We’ve punched up the comedy elements quite a bit—given some structure to a storytelling style that meanders sometime—and cast some tremendous actors that provide distinctive voices and personalities for the cast of characters. On first glance the show seems like it may play very young, but once you watch an episode or two you quickly realize that the comedy works on many levels and can be enjoyed by the entire family.

“Music is a very important element of our adaptation as well, we’ve added dozens of original songs to help tell the stories, and there’s a 1:00 music video included in each half-hour,” adds Grossfeld, who actually started as a freelance composer for 4Kids. “A great thing about the show is that each half-hour is comprised of three standalone 7:00 episodes. So we get to feature all of the characters in the series in a half-hour in a way that allows each to have a featured role in a story. You’ll find yourself laughing out loud at a crazy situation…and all of a sudden we’re on to the next story.”

And just who are the main characters? Grossfeld is more than ready to read them off.

“The Gogoriki are nine characters that represent archetypes viewers will recognize from their own lives. The four youngest of the group are Pogoriki, Chikoriki, Rosariki and Wolliriki. Pogoriki (the rabbit) is the hyperactive, enthusiastic go-getter/idea generator always up for a challenge or adventure. Chikoriki (hedgehog), his level-headed and cautious best friend, prefers to take a sensible approach and think things through first. Rosariki (pig), a ‘teenager” compared to Pogo and Chiko, is hopelessly optimistic, sometimes cheerful and forever romantic, eager to be in the spotlight but ever fretful of her own limitations. Wolliriki (sheep), Rosa’s age, is the sensitive, shy, long-suffering poet looking for inspiration and an outlet for his burgeoning creativity.

“The “adult” Gogoriki include Ottoriki (penguin), the madcap inventor and autodidact whose elaborate contraptions sometimes further complicate already complex situations. She may be the “Granny” of the group, but there’s nothing old about Olgariki (owl). This fitness buff, activist, sports fan and entrepreneur is full of energy and advice. Bigoriki (crow) is the good-natured elder statesman who has seen and done it all-- if only he could remember the details. Well-read and highly educated, the professorial and very proper Docoriki (moose) has a penchant for scientific pontifications. Boboriki (bear) is the determined and amiable farmer who may not say much, yet his actions speak volumes.”

Grossfeld is also more than pleased with the show’s performance.

Gogoriki has been a top performer for the network and also for our on-line video portal at 4kidstv.com,” he says. “We anticipate great things. In Russia they are continuing on with the production – they will have produced a total of 208 segments by the end of this year. I think there is talk of a feature film as well.”

According to most industry sources, there definitely is a feature film in the works, with a release date of later this year to early in 2010. The way the show is going, that sounds like something to celebrate over.

ROBOT CHICKEN GO SKATE PUNK

Adult Swim and Robot Chicken creators and executive producers Seth Green and Matt Senreich are celebrating the release of the Robot Chicken: Star Wars Episode II DVD this summer by strapping on roller skates and living on a tour bus for two weeks. Green and Senreich host the celebration throughout a 9-city tour across America, featuring performances by one of the hottest bands today, Decaydance/Fueled By Ramen recording group Gym Class Heroes. In addition there will be special guests including the show’s writers and producers, celebrity guest stars, themed activities and games and exclusive swag. The tour kicks off in Los Angeles on August 1. A preview party, which is also open to the public, will take place on July 25 in San Diego with a guest DJ.

“Our show is so much fun, we want to invite everyone to have fun with us,” says Seth Green. “Grab your friends, your couple’s skate partner and some kneepads. We’re coming to your town…Or at least to a major market somewhat close to your town.”

“When Seth first pitched the idea of throwing roller skating parties around the country, I rolled my eyes and laughed at him,” says Matthew Senreich. “I said, ‘That’s crazy talk.’ Now that we’re actually going to do it, I’m in awe of its absurdity and can’t wait to attend. It fits with the randomness of our show. Why not throw roller skating parties across the U.S.?”

Adult Swim’s Robot Chicken: Star Wars Episode II Roller Skating Tour schedule: *

• July 25, San Diego, Calif.: Skate San Diego—Preview party minus the band but with a guest DJ and extra Comic-Con awesomeness

• August 1, Los Angeles, Calif.: Venue TBA

• August 2, Las Vegas, Nev.: Rancho Crystal Palace Skating Center

• August 4, Denver, Colo.: Skate City Westminster

• August 6, Kansas City, Mo.: River Roll Skate Center

• August 8, Indianapolis, Ind.: Skateland

• August 10, Richmond, Va.: Roller Dome Skating

• August 12, Philadelphia, Pa.: Jamz Roller Skating Center

• August 14, New York: Venue TBA

*Dates and times are subject to change.

At each event, all ages are welcome, admission is free and doors open at 8 p.m. Patrons with an early entry-voucher will be admitted one hour earlier. Early-entry vouchers can be found in the new DVD, which will arrive at retail on July 21. More information about the tour can be found at AdultSwimPresents.com.

Also, nine new episodes of the series will start airing beginning July 26.

ASIFA FREE SUMMER SCREENINGS

ASIFA will again be holding free screenings at California’s Woodbury University, but don’t expect just cartoons.

The theme is the effect music has had on animation. It will cover the careers of not only the Looney Tunes and Disney masters, but also the likes of Spike Jones, Buck Owens, Cab Calloway and many, many other singing and instrumental greats. It will also include film footage of these legends in action, making tunes, not toons, that is.

The program is entitled Pop Cultural Literacy 101; A Series of Summer Screenings. It will be held Friday, July 10th, 2009, Friday, August 14th, 2009 with a September Date To Be Announced. Short Subjects Start At 7:00 p.m; a Feature Film Starts At 8:30. Admission free to the animation community. Woodbury University School of Business / Fletcher Jones Foundation Theater; 7500 Glenoaks Blvd.; Burbank, CA 91510.

FUNIMATION TO DEBUT EVANGELION SEQUEL

FUNimation announced it will hold the U.S. debut of the sequel to Neon Genesis Evangelion at this year’s Anime Expo, which starts Thursday, July 2.

Entitled Evangelion: 1.0 You Are (Not) Alone, the film is also written and directed by Hideaki Anno, who created the original series. Anno and staff made a complete rebuild of the design and visuals rather than magnifying the original 16 mm film from the series. The team was also able to employ 3D computer graphics to enrich the depth and breadth of the Evangelion world as well as digital photography and composite nonlinear editing.

NEXT COLUMN: Now we’ll do our patriotic duty with the release of the new GI Joe collection.

Twitter activity